Updated to add photos at 11:40 p.m. Friday, May 27:
The sun set Friday evening on the high school careers of 375 Lawrence High Chesty Lions as family members, friends and faculty filled the outdoor stadium to celebrate the class of 2022’s accomplishments.
A gorgeous evening with temperatures in the low 70s provided the backdrop for LHS Principal Jessica Bassett to address her first graduating class.
She said the class of 2022 had left its mark on her and the community with academic excellence, fine arts gifts, leadership, prowess in athletics and character.
“You advocate for what you believe is right and just for all students. You want to extend kindness and inclusion to all. These characteristics make you a unique group. And you leave a great footprint for upcoming classes to fill.”
Bassett told the graduates they were well prepared and “more than enough.”
“And I just want to let you know I’m so glad that I’ve had the honor to work with you because you’ve shown me what it means to be a Chesty Lion.”
Graduates Jake Shew and Gianna Cooper were chosen speakers. Shew, who will attend Missouri State University, told fellow grads in a speech titled “Rebuilding and Resilience,” the beginning of the pandemic delivered struggles, including isolation and lack of focus; but it also created opportunities to grow. The pandemic forced the teenagers to grow up sooner and to deal with death, loss and change.
“But that also means if you’re sitting here, you’ve gone through hell and back and come back stronger. It means that you not only survived a historical catastrophe that changed the world as we know it, but you’ve adapted to it and thrived in that world.”
Shew told peers to hold each other accountable, keep asking questions “about why things are the way they are,” and remember they can overcome many types of obstacles.
“Even absent the pandemic you fought for these types of challenges. Let’s remember the adjustment to a brand new building, the focus on construction. Let’s remember the gun incidents that defined our sophomore year until the pandemic dominated our thoughts and spurred conversations on school safety.”
Shew said the class had served “as a model for what being a Chesty Lions means. And I’ll always be proud of our resilience and poise, which we will carry with us for years to come. The world is new. Now’s our chance to make our mark on it.”
Cooper’s message related the experiences of high school in the speech “Once Upon a Chesty.” Like a novel, the high school years form one’s story and can be organized into chapters. Now it’s time to write a new one.
“And a blank and empty book is eagerly awaiting each of the new and remarkable stories to fill the pages as Lawrence High graduates. I ask each of you to go and live that story, make it memorable, make it unique and make it yours. By doing so, you will have succeeded in what LHS has prepared you to do: Succeeding at proving to the world what it means to be a Chesty Lion.”
Superintendent Anthony Lewis addressed the class as a “generation of innovators and out-of-the-box thinkers.” He reminded them life contains a series of transitions – some involving struggles and negativity.
“But I do believe that we can answer it with hope. And what gives me great hope in the midst of the negativity and the uncertainty of these challenging times is you. Yes, all of you.”
Lawrence School Board President Erica Hill told the class of 2022 to seek out mentors and surround themselves with those who can unlock their potential during life’s “next chapter.” She left the class of 2022 with this advice: “Always be humble, and lead with integrity. There is strength in stability. Listen more than you speak. Be grateful for what you have. Ask for help when you need it.”
Zeric Avery earned the Citizen of the Year award. David Platt and Marci Leuschen won Teacher of the Year awards.
Sam Lopez, student body co-president, led the crowd in a moment of silence in remembrance of 19 children and two educators killed in a school shooting May 24 in Uvalde, Texas.
Outside the stadium, graduating senior Javiar Scott said his future would include full-time work, and he felt excited about having earned his diploma.
“I haven’t been much of a school student my whole life, but it just feels rewarding being able to say I graduated. I know it’s a normal thing for most people to do, but it’s a nice feeling.”
Abby Woolverton said the day felt bittersweet.
“I’m excited to try something new, but it’s kind of sad because it feels like the last moment of my childhood almost.”
Woolverton plans to attend Northern Arizona University, majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish.
The commencement had previously been scheduled for Wednesday, but several days of rain led school district officials to move it to Friday. Lewis told the school board at its meeting Monday that Allen Fieldhouse was not available as a backup venue this year and any on-campus indoor sites would have required a ticketed entry due to limited seating.
Room 308 Productions livestreamed the event on YouTube.
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More — Graduation 2022:
A light breeze Thursday evening blew the tassels of Free State High School’s graduating seniors as some supporters donned winter coats – an unusual site for a late-May ceremony. With temperatures hovering in the high 50s, family, friends and faculty filled the football stadium to honor Free State’s 25th graduating class.